The abrupt resignation of Twitter officials in charge of brand safety and content moderation, after Elon Musk’s takeover of the micro-blogging platform in October 2022, has made the portal more open to hate speech and cybercrime than before.
Ella Irwin, the vice president of trust and safety at Twitter, left the organization. A.J. Brown, the organization’s head of brand safety and ad quality, and Maie Aiyed, a program manager who handled brand-safety relationships, reportedly resigned after Irwin left.
It has been close to a year since Elon Musk completed the $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, an investment which has so far proven to be a colossal loss for the maverick tech billionaire. He has significantly downsized the company’s employees and reversed content distribution-related restrictions. As a result, several companies stopped or reduced their advertising expenditures.
According to the 2023 Axios Harris reputation rankings, Twitter under Elon Musk is the fourth-most-despised brand in the United States. And the scepticism around his ownership of Twitter keeps growing.
Since Elon Musk took control, phishing attempts against Twitter (now rebranded as X) have increased. The changes to the ‘Twitter Blue Premium Verification’ service have given threat actors a pretext to steal users’ login information.
Researchers at cybersecurity vendor Proofpoint have noticed an upsurge in Twitter-related phishing attacks. According to the Proofpoint team, numerous advertisements have employed enticements relating to Twitter verification or the new Twitter Blue offering, such as “Twitter Blue Badge Billing Statement Available.”
After taking over the company, Elon Musk added an $8 monthly fee for the ‘Twitter Blue’ service. He has guaranteed that tweets from verified users will be prioritized on Twitter feeds. Users who paid were verified with the website’s well-known blue tick. The plan has been suspended, nevertheless, due to several spoof account issues.
Twitter and phishing attempts
Twitter phishing attempts use URLs that redirect to criminal infrastructure in addition to Google Forms for data harvesting. Vice President of threat research and Detection Sherrod DeGrippo stated, “These initiatives typically target members of the media and the entertainment industry, including journalists and Twitter users who have the appearance of being verified. Frequently, the email address is the same as the Twitter handle used, or it may be found in the user’s Twitter bio.”
“While we have occasionally seen Twitter credential phishing employing lures linked to verification from cybercrime threat actors in the past, the activity has picked up recently,” the official added further.
In the past, TA482, a hacker gang, has frequently used Twitter-related phishing to target media users. But research published in July 2023 by Check Point Research claimed that delivery service DHL is the most impersonated company for phishing scams, followed by Microsoft and LinkedIn. When it comes to the most-targeted brands for these kinds of attacks, Twitter (rebranded as X) does not even make the top ten.
DeGrippo stated further, “To maximize the possibility that a user would interact with social engineering content, cybercriminal threat actors frequently exploit themes connected to important news stories and relevant to people’s interests.”
Even if Twitter and the social media platform are currently quite active, acquiring access to accounts is still profitable. Twitter accounts that are legitimately verified typically have larger audiences than the average user, and compromised accounts can be used to spread false information, persuade users to interact with additional malicious content like fraudulent cryptocurrency scams and expand phishing campaigns to other users.
De Grippo warned that “pig butchering” fraud, or attacks that start on social media networks before moving on to other services with the ultimate goal of obtaining cryptocurrency, might be launched via Twitter phishing. This kind of activity has increased lately, according to Proofpoint.
Cybercrime on Twitter post takeover
Impersonation of well-known firms has plagued the new authentication system Elon Musk created. Following fake tweets sent by spoof accounts using the names of their respective companies, Eli Lilly and Lockheed Martin suffered a decline in their share prices.
With the ransomware gang Yanluowang joining X in July 2023 to sell their wares, concerns have been raised that the network will be used by hackers to sell stolen data due to the billionaire Tesla’s devotion to free speech.
He cut down the number of employees responsible for X’s safety and content moderation before the most recent high-profile departures from the concerned department took place. He fired the whole artificial intelligence ethics team, which was in charge of making sure that consumers weren’t pushed harmful information by algorithms.
The billionaire recently downplayed worries about the prevalence of hate speech on Twitter. During a Wall Street Journal event, he asserted that hate speech on the site has decreased since he took over the firm in October 2022 and that Twitter has reduced “spam, frauds, and bots” by “at least 90%.”
There is no data to back up those assertions, experts, and ad industry insiders told CNBC. Some even claim that Twitter is purposefully obstructing independent researchers from tracking these numbers.
X is among the most well-known social networks in the world. Naturally, it is also a sanctuary for scammers of all stripes and cybercriminals.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with common Twitter scams and how they operate, the risk quotient and how to successfully defend yourself against them.
There are many Ponzi schemes out there such as phishing, account hacking scams, conversation frauds, bitcoin scams, and bot scams.
Phishing, a sort of cyberattack in which a threat actor impersonates someone or something they are not, can affect any social media network. With Twitter (rebranded as X), a con artist has virtually endless opportunities to phish users. To provoke the target into entering their credentials, they can use email phishing, by sending false messages.
In November 2022, not long after seizing control of Twitter, Elon Musk unveiled ‘Twitter Blue’, a monthly subscription service that costs money and adds a blue checkmark to a user’s account.
According to a study by Bleeping Computer, con artists promptly took note of this attempt and launched a sophisticated phishing assault to steal the usernames and passwords of users who wanted to confirm their accounts.
Since Twitter’s creation, similar phishing campaigns have plagued the social media platform, with fraudsters coming up with ever-creative ways to steal user credentials. The best thing a user can do is to set up two-factor verification and carefully examine each email that purports to be from Twitter because this won’t change regardless of who is in charge of the social network.
X’s security and user experience have deteriorated under Elon Musk’s ownership, becoming increasingly perilous for users. In a recent story published by Wired.com, Tim Utzig, a visually impaired individual was deceived by scammers on the micro-blogging platform. Tim, relying on a screen reader, couldn’t detect the scam indicators when responding to a tweet from a compromised account. He lost $1,000 in the process.
The author, concerned by the social media portal’s lack of responsiveness, teamed up with a social engineering expert named Steve to track down the scammers. The efforts revealed a network of fraudsters using elaborate methods, exploiting vulnerabilities, and leveraging blockchain transactions to deceive victims. Multiple individuals were identified through their payment accounts, linked to real-world addresses, underscoring the scope of the scam.
This story illuminates several critical issues with X. The rise in fraudulent activities on the platform, exemplified by Tim’s case, indicates a worrisome lack of effective security measures. The decline in accessibility support for visually impaired users further compounds the problem, leaving vulnerable individuals like Tim susceptible to exploitation.
The narrative also raises concerns about Twitter’s changing priorities, as evidenced by its rebranding to “X” and ambitious plans to become an “everything app.” This pivot, while aiming to expand the platform’s capabilities, poses significant security risks given the existing vulnerabilities that scammers exploit. The story serves as a cautionary tale, emphasizing the need for users to be vigilant and the urgent necessity for Twitter to prioritize both accessibility and security to prevent further harm to its user base.
Then there are account hacking scams. The blue checkmark on Twitter has always been reserved for the most eminent people, including celebrities, politicians, and influencers. On the other hand, cybercriminals have always coveted the social evidence that comes with obtaining a blue check. They routinely hack verified accounts to get one.
For instance, a 17-year-old teenager hacked the Twitter accounts of Joe Biden, the then-presidential contender, and Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, in 2020 using a straightforward social engineering technique. The adolescent received a three-year prison sentence after his actions, but they demonstrate how simple it is for cybercriminals to hack verified Twitter accounts, according to The Guardian.
It’s easy to suppose that many people fell for the young boy’s con after he hacked into Biden and Gates’ accounts to demand a Bitcoin payment. However, this was not an isolated incident; breaches occur much too regularly, and most often, regular users are the ones who suffer. This is why it’s crucial to keep in mind that you shouldn’t ever blindly believe what you see on Twitter. Even if it seems like your favourite celebrity is truly tweeting, make sure to confirm that their message is authentic before taking any action.
Conversion frauds are also tricky. Cybercriminals are developing more inventive ways to con consumers because everyone wants a blue checkmark. Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you’ve received a message from someone promising to quickly verify your account.
There are only two ways to have a verified Twitter account in practice. One is a holdover from the first approach, namely making a formal verification request through the platform. There were several requirements you had to meet to receive the blue badge. Most importantly, you had to demonstrate that you are a “notable” person involved in politics, the media, or other fields. This is no longer functional, although those who previously had verified accounts may still appreciate the blue tick icon.
There is currently just one method to get the tiny blue checkmark, which is to join up for ‘Twitter Blue’ if you still want one.
Additionally, be sure to report any con artists who offer to verify your account to Twitter. Visit X’s support page and complete the necessary form there to accomplish this.
In the cryptocurrency industry, scams are all too rampant, and many of them take place on Twitter. You have probably encountered one if you follow cryptocurrency-related accounts or occasionally post about cryptocurrencies.
Twitter cryptocurrency scams come in a variety of forms, some of which are glaringly evident while others are more subtle. One way con artists do this is by pretending to be a well-known digital currency influencer or analyst, posting false tweets, or even sending direct messages to their intended victims. Their tweets may promote worthless cryptocurrencies that will eventually lose value or advertise phoney airdrops and dubious services.
Another scammer favourite is fake cryptocurrency giveaways. This kind of hoax relies on persuading the victim that they would receive a huge reward in exchange for a tiny cryptocurrency deposit to pay a “fee” or something comparable. Of course, the fraudster will just take your money and move on to the next victim if you make the mistake of depositing it.
Make sure you thoroughly research any information regarding a specific asset and only trade on reputable cryptocurrency exchanges if you want to avoid falling victim to crypto-related scams on Twitter.
Then there are bot scams. As you may already be aware, social media sites are crawling with bots—computer programs that mimic human activity. Twitter is no different. A 2022 study from the online analytics firm Similarweb discovered that 5% of Twitter users are bots and that they produce between 21% and 29% of the network’s content.
Although bots are not inherently evil, con artists frequently use them to disseminate false and misleading information, encourage victims to click on harmful links, install malware, and carry out other harmful activities. On Twitter, networks of bots may work together to retweet and like posts to reach a larger audience.
You should always carefully examine any account that sounds suspicious, especially if it frequently spams links in responses to other tweets or sends direct messages, as some Twitter bots can be challenging to recognize and initially resemble real accounts. Block or mute the account in question, and then report it to the micro-blogging platform if you believe it to be a harmful bot.
The recent developments surrounding Twitter, including the departure of key officials responsible for brand safety and content moderation, have raised concerns about the platform’s susceptibility to hate speech and cybercrime. The abrupt resignation of prominent figures like Ella Irwin, A.J. Brown, and Maie Aiyed has had an impact on the platform’s ability to maintain a safe and controlled online environment.
Since Elon Musk acquired Twitter and his subsequent changes, there have been notable shifts in the platform’s policies and practices. These changes have led to decreased content restrictions and alterations to the premium verification service, which has been exploited by cybercriminals for phishing attempts. These phishing attacks use various tactics, including false email messages and Google Forms, to trick users into revealing their login credentials.
Additionally, Elon Musk’s takeover seems to have made Twitter a more attractive target for hackers, increasing phishing attempts. The compromised accounts, particularly those with the coveted blue checkmark, can be used to spread false information, promote scams, and expand phishing campaigns to other users.
Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the rise of cybercrime on Twitter, such as the selling of stolen data and the potential for pig butchering fraud, which involves using the platform as a stepping stone to other services and ultimately targeting cryptocurrency.
It’s worth noting that while Elon Musk has claimed improvements in reducing hate speech and spam on the platform, these assertions lack concrete data to support them. The prevalence of scams and cybercrime, including Ponzi schemes, phishing, account hacking, and bot scams, remains a significant challenge for Twitter users.
In navigating this landscape, users are advised to exercise caution, practice good online hygiene, and be sceptical of unsolicited messages or offers. Implementing two-factor authentication, carefully scrutinizing emails and messages, and reporting suspicious accounts are crucial steps to protect oneself from falling victim to cybercrime on the platform. As Twitter continues to evolve under Elon Musk’s ownership, vigilance and awareness remains the key to staying safe in this ever-changing digital environment.